Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to volunteer once a week with Manchester United Foundation’s communications team, which allowed me to gain valuable experience and transfer the skills I have learned on my course into a professional environment.
As the 2021/22 season came to a close, the Foundation gave me the chance to get involved with one of their projects. I decided to explore the disability and inclusion programme, as I was keen to learn how the Foundation provides equal opportunities in sport for disabled people.
The disability and inclusion programme features multiple projects, including Ability Counts, a disability football programme; Powerchair Football, promoting football opportunities for wheelchair users; and Rooney’s Inclusive Reds, an inclusion programme for young people of all abilities.
The Foundation also works with six partner SEND [Special Educational Needs and Disability] schools. Over the course of a month, I visited all six schools, shadowing the disability and inclusion team.
It was an inspiring, heart-warming and enjoyable experience.
At every session I attended, the children left with beaming smiles on their faces – no matter the severity of their disability – and it appeared to be a mutually enjoyable experience for each of the Foundation SEND officers involved, too.
With the severity of disabilities varying in each school, I took part in different activities each week. One of my favourites was ‘rebound therapy’ at Seashell Trust and Kingfisher Special School; a trampolining-based session aiming to reach children’s physical or sensory targets, whilst developing their skills.
Freddie, who is blind, showed outstanding ability on the trampoline. He started bouncing with some assistance from Jordan, but soon began bouncing independently, demonstrating his incredible self-awareness for his balance, which was truly inspiring.
Another highlight was going on a walk around Sale Water Park with a group of students from Brentwood School and Community College.
Conor, Foundation SEND officer for Brentwood, explained: “This is part of a health and wellbeing afternoon for the young people to improve their physical and mental health.
“It gets them active, increasing their mobility and independence. Walking in the community helps them learn new behaviours and understand what’s acceptable and not acceptable along with increasing their physical activity.”
From the moment we got on the bus to go to the water park, there was genuine excitement amongst all students. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the young people, learn about the fun that they have at the Foundation’s projects.
It was a similar story at Chatsworth Multi-Academy Trust, where Foundation SEND officer Tom ran a circuit training session for the students.
Tom said: “It’s great for working their muscles and body parts as well as boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
“I don’t think a lot of the students get the chance to access the activities we have done today outside of school, so it is good that they have this opportunity to promote healthier living.”
Tom also engaged the students in working with a partner to do four different exercises, asking them to complete as many reps as possible in a minute. I felt tired just watching them, but enjoyed encouraging them to try to beat their previous record.
It was a genuine pleasure to visit each of Manchester United Foundation’s SEND partner schools and experience the outstanding work of each staff member with their students. It’s clear to see the importance of the work the Foundation does in this space, which has inspired me to support in the future. As a big Red myself, I was extremely proud to be a part of it.